May 9, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Design Inspires Scientific Advances

When you see cutting-edge science in materials and methods, you are likely to read “Inspired by Nature.”

Mushroom benches inspired by wasps: Canadian scientists are making benches and other objects out of living mushrooms, PhysOrg reports. Mushroom spores combined with sawdust make for strong, lightweight “biocomposite” materials that are “greener” than polystyrene blocks. There’s double bio-inspiration in this story: the researcher “drew inspiration from a wasps’ nest” he found in a greenhouse. “I was really amazed at the honeycomb structure, because it’s a highly efficient way of occupying space,” he said, admiring its dense grid of hexagonal cells. “It’s scalable, it can go in any direction, and it’s extremely spatially efficient.

Firefly light bulb: Organic LED screens (OLED) are all the rage in TV technology. PhysOrg says that a “biologically inspired OLED” made by Korean researchers mimics the roof-shingle arrangement of light-producing organs in fireflies.  The firefly has the most efficient light production system among the many animals that can emit light, whether insects, birds, amphibians or fish. The new screen reduces the problem of internal reflection that wastes light. The result of the biomimicry? A light emitter with “60% increase in the light extraction efficiency and 15% wider angle of illumination.”

Amazing FactsIn the new study, the researchers have discovered that the asymmetric and hierarchical nature of the cuticle structures also plays a key role in the firefly’s light-emitting ability. The researchers created precise molds of these structures to use as the optical layer of an OLED. Consequently, the same features that help fireflies communicate their courtship signals have turned out to also contribute to improving advanced lighting and display applications…. The firefly light may become a commercial reality in the near future.”

Neural networks: Russian scientists are working to solve the efficiency of computing with neural networks that mimic how the brain operates. Science Daily says it’s been a long-time dream to achieve the brain’s method of parallel processing, which is much more efficient than sequential operations. “This is the reason why “living” neural networks are so immensely effective both in terms of speed and energy consumption in solving [a] large range of tasks,” the article says.

Nacre maker: Scientists at Lehigh University [Michael Behe’s workplace] are making progress imitating nature’s materials and methods. In a paper in PNAS, the authors appreciate the superior qualities of mother-of-pearl (nacre) and other marine shells, but begin with an irrelevant reference to natural selection: “Nature has evolved several unique biomineralization strategies to direct the synthesis and growth of inorganic materials.” If it’s a strategy, or if it directs something, it cannot come from undirected, blind processes. Whatever; the focus is on design: “This work … is an example of the elegance in green functional material synthesis achievable through engineered biomineralization.”

“Mimicking the ingenuity of nature” is PhysOrg‘s headline about “A clean, climate-friendly energy source that is virtually inexhaustible” – photosynthesis. Scientists have been trying to catch up with plants for many years now. “Chemists from the University of Würzburg have now got one step closer to reaching this goal.”

Bat drones: As drone races become the latest sport, scientists at the University of Lund think they can improve performance of drones by imitating bats. PhysOrg reports how they are studying bats in wind tunnels to analyze air flow with smoke and lasers. “This specific way of generating power could lead to new aerodynamic control mechanisms for drones in the future, inspired by flying animals.

Guitar fish aircraft: In a case of reverse biomimetics, PhysOrg shows how scientists found that guitarfish (a kind of ray) employ the same kind of vortex flow found on aircraft. “The team discovered that vortex-like structures in their noses help the guitarfish to swim and smell more efficiently,” the article explains. “This is the first time that vortex-like structures have been found in a fish’s nose. As the fish swims, nasal flaps help circulate the water through the nasal passages. Similar vortex patterns are found around birds’ wings, the article says.

Wood you know this about windows? Finally for now, Science Daily tells about windows made of wood – not the frames, but the window panes themselves. “Materials scientist Liangbing Hu and his team at the University of Maryland, College Park, have removed the molecule in wood, lignin, that makes it rigid and dark in color,” the report says. “They left behind the colorless cellulose cell structures, filled them with epoxy, and came up with a version of the wood that is mostly see-thru.” The unique biological material “will be useful in fancy building materials and in light-based electronics systems.”

Postscript: Can Evolution Design Things?

“Inspired by nature” is Science Magazine‘s headline about designer proteins. In the same issue, Boyken et al. at the University of Washington, “inspired by the DNA double helix” use software to design custom proteins, knowing that “sequence optimization” is key. Also in the same issue, Jacobs et al. at the University of North Carolina design their proteins “inspired by evolution.” They think they are mimicking biological evolution:

BM-DarwinBaloney-smThe lack of nonideal structural elements from de novo designed proteins highlights a key difference between natural protein evolution and current design methods. Specifically, protein design methods universally begin with a target structure in mind. Therefore, the space of designable structures that can accommodate these nonideal protein elements is limited by the imagination of the designer. In contrast, natural evolution is based not on design but on cellular fitness provided by the evolved protein function. This lack of a predetermined target fold is a powerful feature of protein evolution that holds significant potential for the design of novel structures and functions. In an effort to tap this potential, we sought to develop a method of computational protein design inspired by mechanisms of natural protein evolution.

But since they write plainly about their “design strategy” in the paper, this is not the Stuff Happens mode of Darwinian evolution. It is more like artificial selection (intelligent design). Just like a breeder may choose traits he likes after they appear, there is still choice involved: that’s where the “potential for design” plays the key role in the “Design of structurally distinct proteins” that the paper’s title talks about.

Evolutionists keep trying to insert themselves into the biomimetics revolution. Don’t let them get away with it. Bio-inspiration is about intelligent design, from alpha to omega.


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  • seeko says:

    This is a difficult subtle point. How to intelligently analyze the output of a process or analyze even the process itself and realize the analysis is intelligent design and most likely gives results that are intelligently designed.

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